Literary awards in Paris and beyond

Literary awards

What do the above books have in common? They have all won Literary Awards.

And the Winner is…

Announced just a few days ago…

Black Spartacus,  the biography by Sudhir Hazareesingh about the underrecognized Toussaint Louverture, is the winner of the 2021 American Library in Paris Book Award. The American Library’s $5,000 literary prize, now in its ninth year, is given to the most distinguished book of the year, encompassing all genres, written and published in English, about France or the French. The award is supported by a generous grant from the Florence Gould Foundation.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of literary awards. They come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of selection requirements. The biggest prize is over a million US dollars and hosted by the United Arab Emirates. There are local ones such as the American Libary’s prize or Le prix du roman jeunesse des bibliothèques du 20e arrondissement. Some are prizes for specific genres like the Edgar (think Edgar Allan Poe) presented by the Mystery Writers of America. The Newbery Medal is one of many that honors children’s books. Bill & Rosa’s favorite prize is Kansas Cowboy Poetry Contest where the winners receive a belt buckle the size of Texas. Enjoy the humorous prize-winning poem Reincarnation by Wallace McRae 

Winning one of the big prizes catapults the author into the stratosphere and puts the winning book on everyone’s reading lists. Here’s a selection of five of the best-known awards and how they got started.

The Nobel Prize for Literature, named after Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor and industrialist. His most famous invention is dynamite, patented in 1867. The following year, he received an honorary award from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for « important inventions for the practical use of mankind ». He was extremely proud of it and it was certainly a source of inspiration for the prizes he was later to establish in his own name. He loved literature, was fascinated by Byron and Shelley and was in frequent contact with Victor Hugo. He wanted to be a writer, but his father was very much against it. Nonetheless, Nobel did write a play, Nemesis, all but three copies were destroyed after his death by a group of Swedish clergymen who considered it blasphemous. There are several theories as to why Nobel established the prizes, one of them is that he conceived the idea after a case of mistaken identity. His brother Ludvig, passed away in France in 1888 and a French newspaper believing that Alfred had passed, wrote a scathing obituary branding him “the merchant of death” and saying that he had made money by finding new ways of killing people. Nobel became obsessed with his posthumous reputation and rewrote his will bequeathing most of his fortune to a cause that no obituary writer could ever criticize. The document, however, has never been found. Nobel died in 1896 and left much of his wealth for the establishment of a prize “to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind” regardless of nationality. This caused controversy both in Sweden and abroad, mostly because the institutions that were to award the prizes had not been previously consulted and because parts of Nobel’s family were displeased with the will. Thus, the first Nobel prize was awarded five years after his death. The prize in literature was to be attributed to “the person who, in the field of literature, produced the most outstanding work in an idealistic direction”. The Nobel prize amount for 2021 is almost 980.000€. One recent winner of the Nobel prize is Kazuo Ishiguro, who won the award in 2017, you can find several of his novels at the Book Room.

Literary awards

The Booker Prize was born out of a desire to encourage the Anglophone public to take more interest in newly published work in the UK and Ireland. Graham C. Greene (nephew of the famous novelist) and Tom Maschler, also a renowned publisher are the architects behind the idea for the prize and they found a backer in Booker McConnell. Booker McConnell is a conglomerate that dates back to 1835, when it operated the sugar industry in Guyana, and is now manager of the United Kingdom’s biggest food wholesaler and the world’s largest breeder of broiler poultry. The company diversified by acquiring author’s copyrights (such as Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming), paying authors a hefty sum and collecting the royalties. The idea of the literary prize was suggested by Ian Fleming and the first Booker McConnell Prize for Fiction was awarded in 1969. Today it is the most coveted award in British book publishing, the winner receives 50.000 £ and is guaranteed a solid readership for decades to come. From 2002 to 2019, the prize was known as the Man Booker Prize. There is also a Booker International Prize, which is awarded annually to a single book written in any language, translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. One of the winners of the Man Book Prize that you can find at the Book Room is George Saunders, who won the award in 2017, for his novel Lincoln in the Bardo.

Literary awards

The idea behind the Women’s Prize for Fiction was born in 1992, as a direct response to the fact that the Booker Prize shortlist of 1991 included no women and by 1991, only 10% of the authors shortlisted for the Booker Prize had been women even though women publish more books than men. After a discussion on the importance of literary prizes in bringing new authors to the attention of the public, a group made up of journalists, reviewers, publishers and booksellers decided to set up a new literary prize, one that would bring forward women authors of any nationality. The winner of the prize receives £30,000 and a bronze figurine. The Women’s Prize Trust was established in 2018 with the purpose to promote and encourage contemporary writing through advice, practical guidance and mentoring. You can find several books by Kamila Shamsie, the 2018 winner of the prize at the Book Room.

Literary awards

The Pulitzer Prize is awarded each May, since 1917. Named after newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer, one of the most influential journalists in his time. He was born in Hungary and emigrated to the United States in 1864. He is praised as the editor and publisher who helped to establish the pattern of the modern newspaper, having introduced innovations such as comics, sports coverage, women’s fashion coverage, and illustrations into his newspapers. He was also a passionate crusader against dishonest government, thus, phrases like moral purpose, sound reasoning, disinterested and meritorious public service are to be found in the description he left for each prize that his will, written in 1904, established. He specified four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education and five traveling scholarships. The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded by Columbia University, New York City and the winner receives $15,000. One of the recent Pulitzer Prize winners that you can find at the Book Room is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, only 5€ !

Literary awards

The National Book Award celebrates the best books in the United States and it is one of the most prestigious literary awards in the US and the world. It was launched in 1950 jointly by the American Book Publishers Council, American Booksellers Association, and Book Manufacturers Institute and it celebrated the year’s best fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Since then, it has established a reputation for rewarding excellence and has, over the years, acknowledged the work of writers such as Hannah Arendt, Vladimir Nabokov, William Faulkner or Saul Bellow. The winner receives $10,000 and a bronze sculpture. In the late 1980s, the National Book Foundation, a not-for-profit organization was formed to oversee the awards and to promote reading and excellence in writing in America. The 2016 winner of the prize, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, is at the Book Room!

Literary awards

You can find many prize-winning books at the Book Room, check out our inventory here: https://fusac.fr/book-room-inventory/

Closer to home, there is of course the prestigious Goncourt award, that you can read about here: https://fusac.fr/the-prix-goncourt-frances-prestigious-literary-prize/

And a list of book awards should you have a book to enter yourself. 

Article by Iasmina Clark.

25 janvier 2022 8 h 21 min

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